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Presented By: Institute for the Humanities

Martha Nell Smith, "Time for a Thaw: Visibility, Exclusion, and Futures of Digital Humanities"

“The degree to which American society has embraced and absorbed computer technologies is astonishing. The degree to which the changes provoked by computers leave prevailing inequalities is troubling.”
–– Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1990)

Issues of authority, authoritative, and authoritarian, issues of access, meditation, and remediation, and issues of visibility and exclusion will be central to my presentation and exchange with the audience. At a time when feminist, critical race, sexuality, and class critical inquiries have had such a profound effect (and for decades) in the humanities, the configurations of mainstream, NEH-funded digital humanities are often similar to the politics of exclusion and occlusion we have worked so long to transform so that one emerging feminist scholar imagines that queer worlds must be built in the “digital margins”? What are the consequences of such frozen social orders when they are made to seem objective features of intellectual life? Of course merely noting the pervasive problem is not enough, and in this presentation I will pursue some answers for transforming the digital humanities so that innovations are sociological and not only technical. I will ground my critical observations and innovative suggestions by looking at several digital Dickinsons, including the Harvard Emily Dickinson Online (EDA), for which I serve on the Advisory Board. Currently the EDA, which takes as its foundational texts Harvard’s own variorum of Dickinson poems, features no editorial innovation and little innovation as a digital archive. These examples will be used to recommend ways in which methods generated by feminist criticism and theory, critical race studies, sexuality studies and queer theory, and class studies can advance and otherwise improve the work of digital humanities, scholarly editing, computer science, information studies, library science, and humanities computing. The frozen social relations of old orders can and should be thawed in order to enable real sociological innovations, new kinds of synergies for knowledge production.

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